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This article was published 9/6/2016 (1628 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA - Animal-rights advocates — including a Toronto Liberal MP — say a Supreme Court ruling that upheld the bestiality acquittal of a British Columbia man underscores the need for stronger laws.
WARNING: Contents may disturb some readers
The high court decision Thursday narrowly defines the crime of bestiality as penetration involving a person and an animal — meaning it doesn't cover other forms of sexual activity.
At issue was whether updates to the Criminal Code in 1955 and 1988 altered the long-standing definition of the crime.
"The term 'bestiality' has a well-established legal meaning and refers to sexual intercourse between a human and an animal," Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cromwell wrote on behalf of the majority in the 6-1 ruling. "Penetration has always been understood to be an essential element of bestiality."
Cromwell found nothing in the legislative evolution and history that indicated a change in meaning.
"Parliament may wish to consider whether the present provisions adequately protect children and animals. But it is for Parliament, not the courts, to expand the scope of criminal liability for this ancient offence."
The court's decision reflects the sorry state of Canada's animal-protection laws, said Camille Labchuk, executive director of the group Animal Justice, which intervened in the case.
"I'm not surprised that the majority felt that it had to take this position, because our laws are so outdated and so bad," she said. "They need to be overhauled."
Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith said his private member's bill, now at second reading in the House of Commons, would bring the definition of bestiality in line with public expectations by criminalizing any sexual conduct between animal and human.
"Our Criminal Code is severely outdated with respect to animal-protection laws," he said. "And in my view today's decision is a call from the Supreme Court to Parliament to act."
In a statement, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said Erskine-Smith's bill proposes significant amendments to the Criminal Code. "This is an important issue that deserves careful study. Any amendments to these provisions should be informed by broad consultations with Canadians."
Erskine-Smith said his bill does not affect farming, fishing or hunting — concerns that have stalled previous efforts to update animal-protection laws.
"I think today's decision will be helpful to show my colleagues that this (private bill) is a very positive step, and just how outdated our animal-cruelty laws actually are."
In the case before the courts, the B.C. man was found guilty three years ago of 13 counts arising from repeated sexual molestation of his two step-daughters.
The charges included one count of bestiality under the Criminal Code, stemming from sexual activity involving the older girl and the family dog. It accounted for two years of his 17-year sentence. (He cannot be named to protect the identities of the step-daughters.)
The man successfully challenged the bestiality conviction in the B.C. Court of Appeal based on the fact the activity did not involve penetration.
The Supreme Court affirmed that ruling.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Rosalie Abella said she had a great deal of difficulty accepting that in modernizing amendments to the Criminal Code, "Parliament forgot to bring the offence out of the Middle Ages."
A good case can be made that by 1988, Parliament intended, or at the very least assumed, that penetration was irrelevant, she wrote.
Labchuk said the problem of sexual abuse of animals "is likely more common than we might think."
"Sexual abuse of children is often linked with sexual exploitation of animals as well. So it's not only important for the animals that Parliament act swiftly, but also to protect children from this type of exploitation."
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